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'Then and Now' program recalls when salmon was king on South Whidbey

Bill Haroldson will present “Of Resorts, Salmon and Fishing Derbies of South Whidbey Island (1930 -1960)” at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 at the Bayview Senior Center.

This presentation is one of a series of South Whidbey Historical Society “Then and Now” productions designed for public enlightenment and entertainment.

Haroldson will highlight his power point presentation with many photographs and oral history.

In the 1940s and '50s, when sport fishing reigned supreme and salmon were plentiful, resorts and fishing cabins dotted the shores of South Whidbey. Aided by the recollections of Warren Farmer and the historical archives of the South Whidbey Historical society, Haroldson will recall the days of resorts and fishing derbies. Learn about the rise and fall of the fishing resort business on Whidbey Island.

The colorful oral history draws extensively from the recollections of Warren Farmer. Warren’s father, Charles, founded the Bush Point Resort in the 1930s. Warren with his wife Darla still reside at Bush Point.

The story of fishing cabins and resorts began with the automobile. In the 1920s mass production of the automobile created an affordable product. Car ownership soon came within the reach of middle class Americans. This allowed people to travel more. With the automobile’s mobility, came a need for car ferry service and more roads on Whidbey Island. Cars, ferries and roads enabled city people from Seattle to discover the natural beauty of the Island.

Salmon traps were outlawed in the early 1930s, and some of the local islanders saw an economic opportunity in the mainland visitors. Thus, the resort industry was started on South Whidbey. Islanders began building snug little one room cabins with a wood stove and maybe running water and electricity.   People came with their sleeping bags and 25 lbs of ice for the ice box. They came for a weekend or even a week.

What was the main drawing card to these primitive resorts?  They came to fish for salmon.

Salmon were abundant and all you needed was an outboard motor and fishing tackle. You could rent sturdy 16 foot boat and fish close to the resort.  During The Great Depression of the 1930s most individuals had little disposable income to spend on a weekend of relaxation. They came to fish and much of it was a form of subsistence fishing to feed their families.

As an added attraction, the resort owners started having fishing derbies to see who could catch the largest fish. Fifty-pound king salmon were not uncommon catches at these derbies. To attract fishermen to rent their cabins and boats the resort fishing derbies offered prizes of money, boats and motors.

Following World War II, the resorts flourished as veterans returned and sought family getaways that would not break the pocketbook.

During the 1950s, however, people began to buy their own boats and even bought land on Whidbey for their own cabins.

In the late 1960s to the present, salmon fishing declined and more regulations were placed on the sport fisherman. This meant an end to the fishing resort. Resort owners began selling their property to former customers and today the resorts are gone.

Many of those families that first came for weekend fishing trip to a local resort are now living on Whidbey Island.  They talk about their grandparents who first brought them to the island and now they are bringing their grandchildren. Summer cabins replaced resort cabins. Today, fine homes have replaced many of the original basic, Spartan summer cabins.

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